Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Christian Warriors Soldier On!

I just finished a book about God the other day. Well, it wasn't about God, actually. It was about how fundamentalist evangelical Christians are trying to overtake our military in God's name. Well, not in God's name, but in his son's name. Which, I guess, is really God's name too. Kind of. Or something.

But, the gist of the book is how a faction within the Air Force Academy has, for many years, been turning the Academy into a force of evangelical crusaders. Being in the evangelical "Mecca" of the US (ie- Colorado), the Academy has been transformed from a secular institution into a taxpayer-funded religious one where, at the time of the book's writing (2006), many of the top brass at the Academy were evangelicals.

Now, that's fine and all. Being an evangelical is fine.

Yet... turning our secular institutions into religious ones, isn't fine.

There are many religions. And since we're mere humans, we don't know which (if any) is the correct religion. Perhaps the truth is that all paths ultimately lead to some type of God. But the truth is, some religions claim to be the only path to God and/or claim to be the only correct religion. Yet, there are several religions that claim to be the "correct" religion. So basically, our country is made up of a bunch of people who believe they follow the one "true" religion, that they follow one of many religions that is "true," who don't believe in any religion, or who have various other beliefs.

Accordingly, our country was founded on the idea that, while people should be free to exercise the religion of their choice, the institutions of our nation should not promote or compel the practice of one religion over any other. And thus, we have these push-pull concepts of the "Free Exercise of Religion" and the "Separation of Church and State."

On the one hand, the state should not endorse one religion over any other, but on the other hand, people should be free to express their religion. We always seem to be struggling to keep that balance. And at the Air Force Academy, a national institution dedicated to developing future leaders, that balance became really skewed.

Over the course of many years, the Air Force Academy had turned into a de facto evangelical Christian, state-funded institution. Christian prayers were displayed at mealtimes, military speakers and faculty members ended meetings with Christian prayers, and non-Christians, non-evangelicals, and atheists/agnostics were persuaded to become Evangelical Christians.

And by persuaded, I mean officers, upperclassmen, and military chaplains would present non-evangelical students the gospel of Jesus with the intent that the person convert to Christianity. Now, to be clear, outside of a military environment, and outside of a state-funded institution, such behavior is fine.

But (disregarding the state-action issue), a military environment is different than a civilian one. By its nature, the Air Force Academy's intent is to first physically, emotionally, and spiritually break down a student and rebuild and remold him or her into a leader. I'm guessing you see how evangelizing in this context is problematic, as the goal at the Academy had turned into breaking students down and rebuilding them as evangelical Christian warriors.

By its nature, a military environment is also heirarchical. If a religion is endorsed by a superior officer and this officer encourages a student of a lesser rank to convert- the lines become blurred as to whether the behavior is mere encouragement or an order.

An evangelical Christian may think, "Well, it's inherent within the evangelical Christian faith to evangelize. Therefore, it would violate the 'freedom of expression' to not allow an evangelical Christian to evangelize students at the Academy." In fact, evangelical heads of the Academy used that very argument when confronted with "Separation of Church and State" complaints.

First off, let's remember the constitutional balance that must always exist between "Free Exercise" and "Separation of Church/State." Allowing religious persons free reign on any and every behavior that is defined as "exercise" of religion creates an imbalance.

Secondly, this sneaky shift turns the First Amendment violators into victims. For, some evangelicals are unable to see how evangelizing within a military environment is offensive to the validity of the faiths of other people. Because they so firmly believe that their religion is the correct one, and are so intent on making other people also believe this, they don't seem to stop and think "Maybe this Jewish/Catholic/Muslim person believes that her religion is the Truth just as strongly as I believe that mine is. And maybe I should respect that. "

Which brings me to the lack of tolerance and respect for other religions that became pervasive at the Academy. One report called the situation "reflections of systematic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels of the Academy Command Structure." In short, some military evangelicals are unable or unwilling to see how evangelizing often led to the inhibition of non-evangelical Christians' right to the "free exercise" of their respective religions (or non-religions). Or, perhaps, they just didn't care.

Many are also unwilling to accept that while, yes, one has a constitutional right to "free exercise" of religion, that this right by necessity places limits on actual behavior. One can believe whatever one wants to believe, but one cannot act however one wants to act and then call "free exercise" foul when the state prohibits certain actions. Remember polygamy and the Church of Latter Day Saints? (to use a trusty old analogy).

But, aside from the constitutional issues in this case, the rise of evangelical Christianity in the military should alarm all of us. For, the entire world may suffer the consequences of American-military-might-combined-with-religious-zealoutry. We have known for a long time that our Commander in Chief believes he is on a mission from God.

Yet, many in our military, it seems believe likewise.

What is troubling to me is that ideas espoused by evangelical Christian leaders at the Academy sound eerily familiar. Namely, they frame the war and our military as though we are in the midst of a cosmic battle between "good and evil." As Reza Aslan explains, "What is most revealing about the whole concept of an apocalyptic civilzational clash is that both the evangelicals and the jihadists use it to justify their actions."

Some in the military, it seems, are sort of acting like our "enemies."

When I, for one, think about what our military stands for.... I think of the word "freedom" that so many politicians like to throw out in their patriotic sound bites. Yet, the traits the Air Force Academy has shown include dangerous fundamentalism and religious intolerance- not freedom.

Aren't those the traits we are supposed to be fighting against?

Shouldn't we leave God out of our wars and instead talk about why we really continue to kill each other?

Shouldn't we stop using God to justify violence and intolerance?

Perhaps our nation's founders were on to something when some of them insisted on keeping religion separate from our nation's institutions, and separate from the military....

"If we don't figure out a way to strip these conflicts of their religious connotations, then we will never figure out a way to put an end to them. Because as long as these remain cosmic conflicts, they will go on for eternity." - Reza Aslan

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jena 6 and White Complicity/Apathy

My delay in writing about the Jena 6 has been to give me time to read as much as possible about the case, and to read articles from all sides of the story. Just because something like "Free the Jena 6" is a supposed "progressive" or "liberal" cause, I'm not going to knee-jerk support it without educating myself.

To paraphrase and consolidate the various articles and websites I have read about the situation, this is what seems to have happened:

In a small Southern town that may or may not be "racially-divided," groups of white and black high schoolers threatened and attacked each other in various ways. One of these ways included the overtly racist act of some white kids hanging a noose on a tree the day after a black kid had sat under it. Since the noose incident, "both sides" had continued to attack and threaten each other- meaning black kids and white kids were attacked. After one particular attack on a white student by a group of black students (the so-called "Jena 6"), the black students were arrested and prosecuted, and later charged with attempted second degree murder (charges were later reduced). The students sat in jail for months, due to extremely high bails. As far as I could find, only one white student was arrested for attacking a black student. This student was later released and placed on probation.

So, to me, the injustice in the case is this:

1) White students were either not prosecuted for threats and/or assaults on black students or they were arrested and released on minor charges.

2) When the black students were arrested and prosecuted, the district attorney initially charged them not with "mere" assault and battery, but with attempted murder that could land them significant prison time.


3) The District Attorney pursued the case against the Jena 6 on trumped-up charges knowing the tense racial relations that had been occurring over the course of the past year or so. So, the Jena 6 did commit a crime (allegedly). But, the black students who attacked a white student were charged with attempted murder, and the white student who attacked a black student was released on probation. This disparity sends a message to the black community, to everyone really, that white lives are worth more than black lives. That, it doesn't matter if the futures of a bunch of black kids are thrown away and who cares if they sit in prison for 20 years.

So, while some may believe that the "Jena 6" incident has been overblown and people are overreacting, the message that it sends is one that has been a recurring theme throughout our nation's criminal justice history.

Now, this happened in the South. As someone who spent many a youthful summer in Mississippi, I know that the South is, um.... different than many places. But we also shouldn't be too quick to stereotype everyone down there. Undoubtedly, there are good and bad people on "both sides." But I do question why no adult stepped in during the course of these events and said "enough."

But, what is happening in Jena, and why I think so many from all over the country are protesting, is because it's a caricature of the racial inequality that is inherent in our criminal justice system nationwide. And, even if the facts are disputed in the incident, public outcry and protests are turning it into the Rosa Parks of the criminal justice sytem. For, inequalities are present throughout the system- from the "war on drugs," the death penalty, "driving while black," to disparities in sentencing. Many black people know about these inequalities. Many white people have the luxury of not having to know about them.

This incident is symptomatic of racially-biased prosecutorial discretion that those of us on the outside of the system have the privilege not to think about. Those of us on the outside have normalized this as just some hassle that black people have to deal with. Or worse, some people think, "well...black people are inherently more violent than other groups." As though violence and crime happen in a vaccum and all social, economic, and racism factors are equal because this is America.

To riff off of one of Teh Portly Dyke's latest blogs who says:

Human beings are incredibly adaptable. A teacher of mine once said: "The mind can make 'normal' out of anything". I have found that this is true, and it is sometimes a little scary to me how quickly we can come to accept something that would have had us foaming at the mouth in the past.

Frankly, I think some white people are tired of hearing about racism, are tired of hearing about "white privilege," and are tired of hearing about the effects of slavery. They are tired of hearing about these things because many of them don't understand. Racism and white privilege still exist, of course, and the effects of slavery continue to linger. But thinking about race and racism makes some feel guilty or angry. And, working class white people, who are struggling to make ends meet in their own lives, don't want to hear about this "invisible knapsack" of privileges they supposedly have because they're white.

Many white people have the luxury of never having to think about race, because to be white in the US is to be "without a race"- it is to be the "norm." As man is the default gender for human beings, white people often see themselves as the default race for human beings in this country (and the world?). For example, TV sitcoms about the lives of white people are for all people, yet sitcoms about the lives of black people are "black shows."

And, when we're not ignoring race and privilege, we resign ourselves to a "Well, I'm not racist but I can't change the minds of bigots" shrug and forget the issue because it doesn't affect us personally. And in the meantime, the overt and covert bigotry of others becomes normalized. It becomes just a part of society. We get used to it.

The Jena 6 incident is a reminder that what is going on in our criminal justice system is something that we should not have adapted to but that many, unfortunately, have. A group of people are suffering the consequences, while others have the luxury not to care. We go shopping, we buy our Starbucks, we go out on the weekends and we just don't have to care.

Or so we think.

But really, an injust system is counting on our complicity, or apathy, in this case to legitimize injustice.

And so in this small way, I have consciously chosen to write about race and the Jena 6 to add my voice to the growing criticism of the inequality in our criminal justice system. As a white person, I am okay admitting that yes, white people do have privileges in this country that people of other races, black people in particular, do not have. At this point, I don't know what to tangibly do about white privilege, but admitting it is the first step, as they say.

My hope is that others will read this article and try to think about the ways that race affects us all, and- instead of getting defensive- to acknowledge privileges they have that others may not. Privileges based on our race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, able-bodiedness, and more.

It is when we deny that bigotry exists, when we falsely think "there are equal rights laws, therefore inequality doesn't happen anymore," and when we defensively declare that majority groups don't have privileges, that bigotry and inequality become "normalized." Injustice affects all of us. And, to be silent in the face of bigotry and injustice is to be a participant in it.

If we have any collective conscience, we will start caring about the injustices that affect other people more directly than they affect us.

Finally, at the risk of sounding cliched, I'm going to end on this relevant quote.....

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

-Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Friday, September 21, 2007

New Game: Sound Bite Detector- SCHIP

I'd like to introduce a new game in Fannie's Room. It's called, Sound Bite Detector. This tool dissects what politicians are really saying when they speak in public. And by dissect, I really mean "interpret" what lies behind the sound-bites.

As you may or may not know, Congress is in the midst of trying to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover more children. SCHIP is a national program, administered by states, for families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid yet not enough to be able to afford private insurance. This proposal is in response to high levels of children in the US lacking health insurance. Congress wants to expand this program. The Bush Administration doesn't.

[Sound-bite detector, on. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP]

Bush says about the proposal:

"Unfortunately, instead of working with the administration to enact this funding increase for children's health, Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know will be vetoed. One of their leaders has even said such a veto would be, quote, 'a political victory,'"

By that he really means, "Congress, ignore your constitutional duties to create legislation and just write the bill the way my administration wants the bill to look, mkay? If you don't let my administration, the Executive Branch of the government, make the laws, then my administration won't execute the laws."

Also note the use of the passive voice when talking about the bill that Democrats "know will be vetoed." As though a magical veto-machine, and not Bush, will veto this bill that would expand health insurance for children.

Democrats, of course, charged back that they're not merely playing a political game and that they do care about children.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan says:

"We were coming together in a bipartisan way to be able to give more children, American children, the ability to get their health-care needs taken care of."

And by explicitly using the phrase "American children," Sen. Stabenow probably wants everyone to know that she means the children of American citizens, and not "illegal aliens." Always an important distinction in determining whose children, exactly, should have their health care needs taken care of. Save the childrens! Unless, of course, they don't really belong here.

Now, the events and political talk surrounding this bill could very well be some political game. But I also think it's valid for Democrats to point out Bush's false claim of being a "compassionate conservative" who cares about families and children. Especially considering that almost every thing he's done while in office has been the antithesis of compassionate.

Further, Bush claims that instead of expanding the children's insurance program:

"I believe the best approach is to put more power in the hands of individuals by empowering people and their doctors to make health care decisions that are right for them."

What a great theory. In theory, anyway. People can say they want to go to this doctor or or that doctor all they want- and that they want to make this decision or that, but if they don't have the money to pay for it, do they really have a "choice"? No. They'll be stuck using emergency rooms as their primary care "option."

So, what Bush really means in the above quote is "let's not socialize children's health care any more than it already is."

Which is fine, but what are you going to do about those whose parents can't afford health care? What is your alternative plan to "care for the children"?

The bill, which is also supported by many Republicans, will pay for the expansion with an increase in the cigarette tax. Hmmmm, raise the cigarette tax and thereby discourage some people from smoking, to pay for more health care for children. Sounds like a win-win deal to me. Except..... Bush opposes this tax increase. Ohhh, right. Those pesky tobacco companies probably don't like this proposed tax hike. And we all know that profits of tobacco companies should always trump public health considerations.

Interestingly, Bush says he will veto the proposal because it will "raise taxes on working people."

And, by that he really means the proposal "will raise taxes on working people who smoke and the hard-working executives of tobacco companies." Let's be clear about this instead of scaring blue-collar folk everywhere with the specter of an income tax raise!

So, to sum all of this up our politicians are collectively saying:

Save the children! Save the children by expanding children's health insurance! Save the American children by expanding health insurance! Save the American children by expanding health insurance unless doing so would mean less money for tobacco companies that harm public health.

Save the American children by expanding health insurance unless doing so would mean less money for tobacco companies that harm public health and besides people should have the freedom to choose healthcare that they have no way to pay for!

See how empty campaign promises to "help children" are rarely put into practice when it comes down to poor and middle-class children and what politicians really think is important?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Am Not Defined By My Position on Marriage

Over the course of the last month or so, you have probably noticed an increase in the number of posts I have written about the marriage equality issue. What spurred this increase was my original critique of a so-called marriage defense blog that shall remain nameless in the hopes of not giving this blog any more free publicity.

I believe that a few of them honestly see themselve as noble defenders of a tradition that is truly threatened by the specter of admitting gay couples into it. But based on their many comments and posts, I also believe that more of them, unadmittedly or unknowingly, justify their position on stereotypes about gay people, the "icky factor" of gay sex, irrelevant appeals to natural law, and the desire to maintain a state-approved patriarchal and/or heterocentric society.

As a blogger, I tried to resist writing about "gay marriage" because I always thought of it as a boring, yet important, issue that will be obsolete in 10 years or so. It is boring to me because how many times and in how many ways can one say "gay people deserve the dignity and equal rights of marriage" and how many times and in how many ways can you listen to and respond to "gay people can't get married because marriage isn't for gay people"?

Which brings me to the point, what do internet debates really accomplish? For, when we (and they) are not preachin' to the choir, we (and they) are uselessly evangelizing to people whose minds are already made up. And, when we (and they) are not evangelizing, internet debates often serve as a forum for embarassing your opponent, displaying what some think of as intellectual prowess, attacking the other side, demeaning the other side, displaying stereotypes and inner biases, and worse.

I have spent a lot of time writing posts with the intent to entertain, inform, and expose irrational thinking around the issue of marriage equality specifically, and LGBT rights generally. There are bloggers who have turned their concern about the erosion of the traditional family into an obsession- thereby defining themselves not as indivivduals but as anti-marriage-equality advocates. Even if they are not bigots, they become defined as such based on their position and the blogs with which they associate. And, even though I am a marriage equality advocate, I will not dedicate this blog to rebutting and exposing "marriage defense" arguments. From time to time, yes, I will continue to write about the issue.

But frankly, as a person, I am more than my position on any single issue. And like you, and like my opponents on the marriage issue, I am more nuanced than any stereotype that can be created about me based on my marriage equality advocacy. As such, I am going to make a concerted effort to go back to blogging about a broader array of topics that interest me.

Those on the anti-marriage equality side of the debate have, for too long, been given free reign on defining values, morals, and family. And worse, we let them. We let them frame the vocabulary of the debate. We let them make us justify our lives, our love, and our families. As though we believe that there really is something inherently wrong with us, instead of something wrong with them for creating a mythical save-the-children-civilization-is-ending scenario in an effort to deny rights to loving families in a nation that has always (hypocritically) prided itself on the motto that all white land-owning men people are created equal.

So, in the meantime, I'm going to continue to follow the issue, write about it occasionally (but not obsessively), and hope for a new breed of politician who will avoid or jump off the marriage defense bandwagon.

I'll end on these quotes that those on all sides of the debate should read.

"Democracy should be more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner" - James Bovard

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." – C. S. Lewis

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bigotry 101, The "Special Rights" Myth and Hate Crimes

Recently, a woman was "gay-bashed in New York." After much thought and consideration, I decided it was time to tackle the "hate crimes are special rights for gay people" myth.

In general, a hate crime occurs when someone targets a victim because of his or her membership in a certain social group.

Hate crimes laws apply to a variety of categories including, depending on the state, race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. The current federal law includes race, color, religion, or nation origin.

The basic idea of hate crimes laws is that the same criminal conduct is punished more heavily if the criminal selects the victim because of his or her protected status. Hate crimes laws do not punish bigoted thought, but rather, they punish bigoted conduct. Oftentimes, however, bigoted thought is reflected in bigoted speech that accompanies an attack (eg- calling a lesbian a "dyke" while attacking her).

It would be refreshing to see debates surrounding hate crimes laws to revolve more around criminal punishment policy and less around groups irrelevantly and insecurely speaking about some groups getting "special rights," rights that others supposedly do not have. For, hate crimes laws confer no rights, special or "un-special," on someone, but rather confer greater punishments on criminals based on why they committed the crime. The words "protected status" are problematic in themselves- for these words imply that hate crimes laws place an invisible magical shield around so-called "protected" groups. And therefore, some groups- the "unprotected" ones- receive no such protection.

No such shield exists, of course. For if it did, hate crimes wouldn't happen.

In addition, hate crimes laws are not applicable only to minority racial, ethnic, and sexual groups. Generally, they would also apply to someone who attacked a white person on the basis of race just as they would apply to someone who attacked a black person on the basis of race.

Using the "special rights" myth as an argument is a distraction from what hate crimes laws are actually about.

Below, I'm quoting the US Supreme Court (Justice Rehnquist, nonetheless!) in WISCONSIN v. MITCHELL, 508 U.S. 476 (1993) not to appeal to its authority, but because it provides a good summary of criminal punishment principles surrounding hate crimes laws that should be required reading for anyone involved in the "debate." (For smoother reading, I have deleted internal citations to other cases. Follow the link to the case if you are interested).

"Traditionally, sentencing judges have considered a wide variety of factors in addition to evidence bearing on guilt in determining what sentence to impose on a convicted defendant. The defendant's motive for committing the offense is one important factor."

"Moreover, the [hate crimes law here] singles out for [greater punishment] bias-inspired conduct because this conduct is thought to inflict greater individual and societal harm. For example, according to the State and its amici, bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest. The State's desire to redress these perceived harms provides an adequate explanation for its penalty-enhancement provision over and above mere disagreement with offenders' beliefs or biases. As Blackstone said long ago, "it is but reasonable that, among crimes of different natures, those should be most severely punished which are the most destructive of the public safety and happiness." [emphasis mine]

Let's think about these principles in light of the recent gay-bashing incident from above. In this case, a woman who was dancing with another woman at a bar, was thrown out of the bar and then subsequently attacked by a group of mostly men. While attacking her, they screamed "Fucking dykes! Fucking lesbians!" indicating that the motive of their attack was based on their hatred or, to put it mildly, their "bias" of lesbians.

The attackers in this case would be arrested for assault and battery no matter their motivation for the crime. With the application of a hate crimes law, however, they would face a more severe penalty for their actions. The reason for this stiffer penalty is to send a message to the LGBT community that those who attack gay people just because they are gay are not given a mere slap on the wrist, to make these attackers think twice before committing another such crime, and hopefully to rehabilitate their actions (if not their hateful thinking).

When criminal policy is put into practice, it should be based on more than just theory. These theories of messaging and retribution, of course, should be backed by statistics. The Supreme Court when making its decision considered statistics and evidence in the numerous amici curiae briefs filed in this case.Heres's an example of one.

Criminal policy applications should also be fair. They aren't always, in reality, but they should strive to be.

Is it "fair" for a court to punish hate crime attackers more severely than if the criminals randomly attacked someone?

As the Traditional Values Coalition says, "The murder of a father should not be treated as less valuable than if a homosexual or drag queen is killed."

Let's ignore the fact that many "homosexuals" are, in fact, fathers and that the use of "drag queen" is meant as a distracting pejorative, and let's instead talk about how punishing a criminal isn't about placing a value on the victim. Do we really believe that a victim's life is measured solely by the sentence a judge or law imposes on the perpetrator?

Criminal punishment is about (a) deterring that criminal and others criminals from committing similar crimes in the future, (b) rehabilitating the criminal (ha, in theory at least) (c) and repaying the "debt" to society that the criminal caused when he or she committed the crime.

Any attack or murder is horrible, and families of victims are rightfully horrified by them.

But, if an attack on a gay (or straight) person because that person is gay (or straight), on the whole promotes greater community unrest, produces greater societal harm, and is more destructive of community and public happiness than a non-biased-motivated murder is, then the murderer should be more severely punished than the perpetrator of a random attack.

Imposing more severe punishment on those who commit hate crimes has nothing to do with giving gay people "special rights" and everything to do with living in a civil society with one another.

Some argue that hate crimes laws take away our "freedoms," particularly our freedom of speech. Such people fear that they will no longer be able to say things like "homosexuality is wrong" if hate crimes laws are enacted. No. You'll still be able to say whatever you want, you just can't kick someone's ass on the sole basis of your belief that homosexuality is wrong. No more than someone could beat you up for believing that heterosexuality is wrong.

Groups like the Traditional Values Coalition also warn that hate crimes laws violate "freedom of religion." No, they don't. Unless your "religion" is the Church of Let's-Go-Kick-Us-Some-Faggy-Ass you have nothing to worry about.

I'd like to end on this final note:

The Wisconsin v. Mitchell Supreme Court case discussed above involved a white person who was attacked by a group of black people. That the Supreme Court chose a case with such a fact situation is interesting (considering our nation's history of bias-motivated violence against black people) and was probably intentional. I wonder if the Court purposely chose a case to demonstrate that minorities too would be subject to the harsher penalties under hate crime legislation.

The uneducated view is that only minorities will benefit from and only white people (and heterosexuals) are harmed by hate crimes laws. That this important precedent is taken from a fact situation where the hate crimes law is used to impose a more severe penalty on a black person, I think, was the way the court bought "approval" for this opinion. It was a way to say (a) we aren't a renegade "activist" court and (b) "Helloooo, white people can be victims of race-based hate crimes just as minority groups can."

That's my theory, anyway. If anyone knows the history of why the Court granted cert to this particular factual scenario, please share ;-)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Southwest Airline Booby Cover-Ups

Shouldn't they be more worried about screening potential terrorists wielding box cutters and shoe bombs than screening pretty women wielding breasts and sexy outfits?

How dare these women leave their houses with their breasts in tow!!

But seriously, I do think this whole thing is so Puritan and boring- just as the whole Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction was. Was it really so very damaging to our pure innocent eyes to see Ms. Jackson's breast for a millisecond? Was it so damaging to little kids who may or may not have just finished breastfeeding, but who surely had seen other breast-images elsewhere? And, is the female breast inherently that profaine that we are still talking about the incident?


But whatever the case, I'm sure the always-threatened "traditional family" is bound to suffer harm from the incident in some way.

On a sort-of unrelated and random airplane note, what is so fascinating about the "mile-high club"? I feel like people who have sex in airplane bathrooms do it to more to say they have done it, and not because it is particularly titillating.

Just sayin.

Friday, September 14, 2007

World, Meet Loraine Barr

Read this article.

It's a sweet-yet-also-sad story of an 88-year-old woman who is, for the first time, publicly coming out as a lesbian. As she says, "It took the death of my dear life partner for me to find the courage to come out of the closet."

It's when I learn of stories like hers that I stop and think to myself "Wow, despite being slow, and dangerous behind the wheel... old people can still be gay."

I'm kidding, I'm kidding!

Seriously though, it's when I heard stories like hers that I wonder how many gay and lesbian people throughout history have settled and lived a heterosexual life, or, what some would call a "normal" life. How many people who romantically and sexually linked better with people of the same sex, instead, due to societal and familial pressures married someone of the opposite sex? Implicit in this question, of course, is the old "homosexuality is a choice" argument.

And so yes, you can "choose" whether to marry a man or a woman, you can choose whether to have sex with men or women (or both), but you can't choose which behavior makes you happy. You can't choose what kind of romantic partnership fulfills you. And that's why I believe that sexual orientation has to do more with what's inside a person than in what behavior he or she outwardly displays.

I'm not a historian, but I have read many books and taken several courses in LGBT history, law, and psychology. It is also something that I continue to study on my own. That people would still "choose" to be gay in the face of beatings, McCarthyism, and regular raids on gay bars is a testament to how sexual orientation, that inner part of a person, is not, in fact, "chosen." And, it's a testament to how relatively lucky we (meaning gay people) are now- with our gay bars and clubs (in some cities), our gay pride parades (in some cities), and some legal protections (in some states). It's not enough, of course, but we can at least look back and see that progress has been made.

And, as someone who as a child had the luxury of believing that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, I have great respect for women who found ways to live with other women during a period when women had severely limited career options and often had to rely on a husband('s salary) to get by. And because of these limited career options, it should come as no surprise that the numbers of lesbians, historically, have been lower than the numbers of gay men in the population.

In sum, at the end of her essay, the author questions her courage. I don't. Even though she is just now coming out, she had the courage to live her life with the person she loved during a time when the world was mostly hostile, sometimes indifferent, and rarely accepting of her love. It is very likely that her family and friends knew her secret as most people know that "roommate" is very often a code word for a same-sex partner. (Especially when you've never been married and have lived with the same woman for 44 years.)

So yes, people knew. But she still lived her life the way that was right for her.

So here's my shoutout to Ms. Barr!

(and here's a shout-out to Genevieve for sending me the story!)

Monday, September 10, 2007

How To Be Against Marriage Equality, A Tutorial

In this tutorial, I will demonstrate a few effective ways to spread bigotry effectively deal with the gay agenda. In this day and age of crumbling families and the erosion of traditional values, we need all the weapons we can get.

This tutorial will focus on gay marriage.

Here we go:

1) Misrepresent the aims of the "homosexual agenda" while bringing up irrelevant and untrue outcomes of marriage equality. For instance, you could say this:

"After marriages have been redefined, divorces will be obtained instantly, will not involve a court, and will take on the status of a driver's license or a hunting permit. With the family out of the way, all rights and privileges of marriage will accrue to gay and lesbian partners without the legal entanglements and commitments heretofore* associated with it."

Note how gay marriage advocates are, hence their name, advocating for gay marriage and not easier divorces. Divorce is irrelevant to the gay marriage debate. However, blaming divorce on gay people will make some heterosexual people happy, as they then won't have to blame themselves for their relationship failures.

*In addition, using big legal-sounding words like "heretofore," even when unnecessary, will bolster your argument. It helps your cause if people are intimdated by how smart they think you are.

2) Warn that gay marriage will destroy the traditional family and end civilzation as we know it. Magnify the threat of gay marriage while ignoring the threat to families of annoyances such as terrorism, global warming, war, domestic violence, adultery, abuse, the shrinking middle class, and crime.

We've already seen evidence from the Scandinavian countries that de-facto homosexual marriage destroys the real Mc Coy. These two entities cannot coexist because they represent opposite ends of the universe.

Don't mention how homosexual and heterosexual relationships have been coexisting for a very long time. Also, ignore the marital issues between the two people involved in a marriage that may make it go bad. Referring to rising divorce rates as the "destruction" of heterosexual marriage and blaming this destruction on gay people will win you favor among some heterosexuals. Because really, if a man cheats on his wife with a younger woman, it's just not his fault.

3) Say that once marriage equality is achieved, people will be lining up to marry multiple partners, their pet donkeys, their cousins and little girls and boys. Instead of crossing those bridges when (and if) we get to them, say that it's better to deny marriage benefits to gay people in the first place. By bringing up bestiality, polygamy, and pedophilia in the context of gay marriage, you are implicitly comparing gay people to these social deviants. This comparison helps your case.

4) Pretend that your arsenal of anti-gay marriage arguments is more numerous than it really is. For instance, on your website, a forum where space isn't really an issue say something like this:

"I could list fifty or more legitimate concerns. Let me focus on only a few..."

"A book could be written on the reasons for this collision between matter and antimatter*, but I will cite three of them."

Clearly, you have many scholarly weapons of mass destruction at your disposal. You just don't want to use them right now.

*Also, note the use of physics references in the second quote. Physics = smart = you are correct.

5) Tell everyone that marriage equality advocates are actually against marriage. After all, marriage- with all that legal mumbo-jumbo and all that committment stuff- is a real pain:

"This is the real deal: Most gays and lesbians do not want to marry each other. That would entangle them in all sorts of legal constraints. Who needs a lifetime commitment to one person? The intention here is to create an entirely different legal structure."

What's this about lifetime committment you say?! Yick! But seriously, heterosexuals know firsthand how hard it can be to maintain such a committment. Current divorce statistics speak to that.

It also helps to follow such proclamations with a vague sentence that doesn't follow or really mean anything.

In addition, you should alsoignore plaintiff couples in gay marriage court cases who have been in monogamous relationships for 13-31 years. Surely these freakish gays aren't representative of most gays. And, surely, these couples are the reason why our divorce rates continue to rise!

5) Many people will be more impressed by secular arguments against marriage equality than by religious arguments. Therefore, proclaim that gay marriages "do nothing" for society and, therefore, should not be allowed.

"Homosexual relationships do nothing to serve the state interest of propagating society, so there is no reason to grant them the costly benefits of marriage."

Britney Spears' marriage(s) served the important societal interest of entertaining the world. Numerous abusive marriages served the important state interest of... well.... you know, I could write a book about that...

What it really may come down to for you, is this: You don't want your tax dollars to subsidize gay relationships (even though you expect their tax dollars to subsidize yours) because gay people don't serve the Very Important Compelling State Interest of having children:

"Collecting a deceased spouse's social security, claiming an extra tax exemption for a spouse, and having the right to be covered under a spouse's health insurance policy are just a few examples of the costly benefits associated with marriage. In a sense, a married couple receives a subsidy. Why? Because a marriage between two unrelated heterosexuals is likely to result in a family with children, and propagation of society is a compelling state interest."

Clearly, children are better off in orphanges than they are in loving families with two parents who are able to provide for them.

Also, pretend that despite an overpopulation problem, the human species is on the verge of extinction. And don't bring up the fact that more American kids in the world may not be a Compelling Planetary Interest.

Keep your righteous eyes peeled for more tips in the future. This is a pressing social issue, after all.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Carnival of Feminists

I'd like to take this moment to make a shoutout to the 44th Carnival of Feminists that is currently up on the Reproductive Rights Blog and thank them for posting my article on the HPV vaccine and boys.

The Carnival of Feminists is something I recently stumbled upon and thought it was a neat idea.

This is what it is:

"The Carnival of Feminists is held (usually) on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Hosted by a different blogger for each edition, it aims to showcase the finest feminist posts from around the blogsphere." A different blogger hosts it each time and a different "feminist" topic is chosen for bloggers to write about it.

Partipate it you want! "Feminists" are not a monolithic group. We are often stereotyped yet we have a multitude of views that are more nuanced than is often portrayed in anti-feminist writings. In this day where "feminist" is used as a pejorative, it takes courage to admit to being one. For, as a feminist, you will likely be labeled as a "man-hater" a "lesbian" (what's wrong with that?) and possibly "pathological."

It's a scare tactic, I think. It's a label to scare women and men who dare question the status-quo.

Feminism is hard to define, but here's one definition I like:

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute…”

–Rebecca West, The Clarion, 11/14/13

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Senator Craig Articles Are Missing the Point

I have so far refused to write about the Senator Craig escapade.

I've read many articles about the situation and they, for the most part, are troubling. I have not been impressed with mainstream media coverage because they don't get to several important points:

1) Senator David Vitter was recently exposed as being a regular at a brothel. This man, who as a politician, said that marriage was a "sacred vow between a man and a woman" did not resign. His party, the Republicans, did not force him to resign. The Republican party, it seems, is more embarassed by potential adult consensual gay sex than it is by a man cheating on his wife with prostitutes. Family values what?

2) Many politicians, it seems, are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is troubling but it shows that politicians are human. And, instead of people merely saying "how hypocritical of Craig/Vitter to tout the 'sacredness' of marriage, when they themselves are adulterers" their hypocrisy should serve to show how it's not gay people who are "ruining" marriage. It's the people who are actually married who are ruining marriage. It's the people who have affairs, for instance, who are ruining the "sacred vow" between a man and a woman.

But, it is easier to place the blame for one's own moral failures on an already-disliked group of people. It's easier to say, "they shouldn't do that" instead of looking at yourself and saying "I shouldn't do that."

3) Someone can engage in homosexual behavior without necessarily identifying as a gay person. Whether Craig is gay is irrelevant to the situation and it's irrelevant to his duties as a politician. Yes, if he's gay it sucks that he would legislate against gay rights, but that's his choice if he wants to create a world that is more difficult for him to live in. He's a hypocrite because he promoted "family values" while (probably) cheating on his wife- not for (possibly) being gay and voting against gay rights.

4) Let's get out of our politicians' bedrooms (er, restrooms) and let's expect them to stay out of ours. Politicians are human. They are going to have sex. Just like the rest of us. Neat. Now let's talk about more important things, instead of using their sex lives to create distractions, to play political football, and to get them to resign.

Grow up, Republicans and Democrats. We expect want more from you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Creation Museum

Has everyone heard about the Creation Museum?

It is, as its website says, a "walk through history" that "brings the pages of the Bible to life." In other words, the museum is devoted to explaining how God created the universe, as it is told, literally, in the Bible.

Among the attractions at Creation Museum are "Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden" where dinasours (yes, dinosaurs!) roam near Eden's rivers, the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil," and a "Walk through the Cave of Sorrows" where you are invited to experience the "horrific effects of the Fall of man" where the "sounds of a sin-ravaged world echo through the room."

The Museum was designed by a former Universal Studios exhibit director and is a fully engaging-sensory experience for guests, which is is all very impressive. But I think that many people who go to visit this museum, children especially, should be cautioned:

Although this state-of-the-art musuem seems real, they shouldn't interpret these exhibits as the real Biblical events. The exhibits are just representations of Bible stories. That is, they are symbols, which means that the Noah's Ark exhibit, for instance, isn't the real Noah's Ark. So, it probably doesn't really float and it probably doesn't really hold two and two of every species.

Just sayin'. Open year-round. Except for Thanksgiving, New Years, and Christmas (of course).